What I’ve learned About Pitching

The Willamette Writers Conference is the first weekend in August and some of us SCBWIers are planning to pitch our wares to the Pros. By Pro, I mean editors/agents/managers/producers/faculty and publishers. Otherwise known as, The People To Whom You Are Pitching.

If you have never pitched before, you may wonder what a pitch is. A pitch is a face-to-face walking, talking query letter. And most pitching is prep work followed by a few minutes of intense interaction with a complete stranger. Intimidating? It can be. BUT, it can also be fun.

The first time I was asked to pitch was at my very, very first professional critique. My Pro was Elizabeth Law and she looked at me as asked, “How would you pitch this?”

I not only didn’t have the vaguest idea what a pitch was, but I had mentally prepared myself to keep my mouth shut and not talk back during the critique. So I fumbled through a wimpy pitch and both Elizabeth and I seemed happy to end the session.

But for me it wasn’t a disaster. As I walked away, without crying by-the-way, I was asking myself, “What is this pitch thing she is talking about?” And so I set out to learn about pitching. Thank-you, Elizabeth.

Here is what I have learned and how to approach pitching as a Kid-Lit fiction writer. If you write non-fiction or scripts, most of this will apply to your field.

Pitching can be divided into:

  • What to pitch
  • You
  • Who you are pitching to
  • The Pitch

And when done correctly it is like a song sung in four part harmony.

So

What to Pitch

Finished work.  Finished in that you are good to go/ready to hit send/doing a happy dance.

1st rights/1st printing.  I.e., not yet published. If you self-published a book and have sold 10,000 copies, you may want to give it a try. But agents and editors want new, original unpublished work.

You

On the outside

Casual business attire. Consider this a job interview. Be neat and clean. You do not have to wear a suit and tie, but if you walk up wearing shorts and flip-flops, you will be dismissed as not-respectful/an embarrassment/not serious. The Pros want to work with creative people they can introduce to their bosses, publishers and the public.

No perfumes and after shaves. You never know who is allergic to wild lilac or forest pine.

You will be pitching in a room with many large  round tables. A Pro will be sitting at each table. Spot your Pro. Walk up. Introduce yourself. If it is a 1-on-1 pitch, sit in a chair near the Pro, but give him some breathing space.

Speak clearly. Do not ramble. If you know your work and your pitch, you won’t need to ramble. But do not read it! No crib notes.

Keep to your time limit as best you can.

Avoid TMI. Don’t tell your life’s story. If you see the eyes of the Pro glazing over, stop.

Be passionate about your work. If you aren’t, no one else will.

When it is time to leave, thank the Pro for listening. Ask if you could leave your business card. If you receive a no, do not cry or fuss or whine. No whining. Do not act desperate and continue to push your work. Whiny, pushy people are remembered for ever and ever and ever.

Outside the room. Be courteous and friendly. Do not complain to your friends if the Pro turned you down. Remember, it is part of the business to learn to deal with rejection. Be graceful in both success and loss.

On the inside

Practice. Practice. Practice. Know your work. Know your pitch. Be prepared to answer questions. Be prepared to be interrupted and able to get back on track.

Be calm. If you are nervous, before you go into the pitching room go to the bathroom and run warm water over your wrists. I learned to do this when working in a high stress position in a hospital. It works.

If your story was not accepted, be prepared to modify your pitch for your next pitch. Be flexible.

Who You Are Pitching To

Read the bios. Pros have listed what they do or do not want. Go to their blogs. Read about their companies. Read some of the books they have represented.

Choose Pros that are interested in your genre/age group/theme. Look at the markets where their books are sold. Are they foreign markets? Libraries and universities? Niche? Small bookstores or large chains? Does your book fit their markets?

This is a business and your manuscript is your product. The people to whom you are pitching want a product that can be sold. They want to make money. And this is good because so do you

The Pitch

Like a story, a pitch has a beginning, middle and end. During the pitch, it is good to get a dialogue going with your Pro. And keep an eye on the time. Be ready to say good-bye when the proctor tells you it is time to leave

Keep in mind a group pitch is shorter depending on the number of people in the group. For a group pitch, shorten the middle of the pitch.

The Beginning

Introduce yourself with a few tidbits re why you are passionate and qualified to write this story:

“Good morning, I am Rosalind Malin. I have degrees in Anthropology and Psychology and am intensely interested in human mythology and cultures.”

Keep it short. You can add more at the end.

Tell the title of your story, its genre and length. Then in one or two sentences, tell the gist of your story. Think of it as the blurb on the back of the book. In the film industry the one sentence is a logline.

My logline for the short script Guns of War is:

“Elpis, the Spirit of Hope, battles War’s guns and schemes while Pestilence, Famine and Death await the outcome.”

My two sentences for Grandma Rose’s Encyclopedia of Toves and Other Mythical Creatures are:

“My mischievous rascals, Toves, hop like frogs, leap like lemurs and run like the dickens. Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky briefly spoke of Toves, but I have created a world spanning time from prehistory to today with intertwining mocumentaries, creation stories, tales of terror and whimsical poems.”

It’s great if you can offer up a comparison:  Rock ‘n’ Roll Detective is Nancy Drew meets the Flintstones OR Summon Chanted Evening is Monty Python cozies up to Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Be prepared for questions. Ask questions. Get that dialogue going.

The Middle

Here is where you tell a couple scenes from your book. Think of scenes that would be good for a movie trailer. Choose scenes that hit plot points/twists/character quirks and arcs or reveals.

Be prepared for questions. Ask questions.

Tell the ending. It does not have to be every detail, but it is necessary to show that you can close the story. Never say to a Pro that she will have to read the story to find out. No she doesn’t. She doesn’t have to read the story at all.

Be prepared for questions. Ask questions.

The End

Wrap it up like you would a query letter. Give some additional information about yourself:

“I am a contributing author to Columbia River Rock Art: The Butte Creek Sites and Echoes of the Ancients: Rock Art of the Dalles-Deschutes Region. Also, I am a member of Willamette Writers, SCBWI and Vice-President of Rose City Lights Production Company.”

Thank your Pro (Did you notice the Pro is now your Pro?). Ask if you can send your story to her and if you may leave your card.  If you are pitching film, ask if you can leave your one-sheet.

Leave gracefully. Wait until you are outside the door to high-five your friends if you got a thumbs-up. Go to your room/car/bathroom if you need to cry.

That’s it from my PPOV as in Personal Point of View regarding pitching. There is more information online. Go to the WW conference pages and look at their article on pitching and read PITCHING TIPS by Daniel Manus.

Good luck to everybody pitching. I’ll see you at the Willamette Writers Conference.       

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